Spirituality Matters 2017: May 4th - May 10th
(May 4, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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“How can I understand…unless someone instructs me?”
This question raised in the today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with Francis de Sales’ perspective on two gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge and understanding.
The Gift of Knowledge
“This divine gift, however, has little to do with mere human learning. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge is essential if we are to make good and effective use of the previous two gifts, if we are to know how to behave towards the God we mean to fear and love. It is about being capable of discerning evil to be avoided and the good to be sought. As the prophet says, offend no more; rather, do what is good. And be at rest always.”
Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.
Francis concludes with this observation: “There have been saints, to be sure, who were wonderfully wise for all of their ignorance. There have been others, equally as certain, who have been wonderfully ignorant for all of their knowledge.”
The Gift of Understanding
“Understanding is a special enlightenment that enables us to see and penetrate the beauty and perfection of the mysteries of faith. We may listen to sermons, we may read widely; yet we can remain ignorant of these divine mysteries if we lack the gift of understanding. A simple soul, open in prayer, may gain some insight into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity – not to explain it, but to draw from it some secret aspect that can save – because the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of understanding. I always maintain that if anyone loses his soul, it is for want of following such mysteries of the faith, for example: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the patient, they shall inherit the land. Who is awake to the beauty of these principles, however, except those whom the Holy Spirit enlightens?”
There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitudes.
(May 5, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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“Who are you?”
This question that Saul raises after falling to the ground and hearing a voice speaking to him is immortalized in our culture by Pete Townsend (and the group “The Who”) as the name of both an album and a song that débuted in 1978. The song raising this question “Who are you?” is also the theme to the CBS TV hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Setting aside the Top 40 charts and the Nielsen Ratings, the question that Saul asks of Jesus is worth being directed at each and every one of us: “Who – are – you?” Francis de Sales answers the question by asking us to consider the following:
- “Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the
world and that your present being was truly nothing.”
- “Consider that God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you
are now and he has done so solely out of his own goodness.”
- “Consider the nature that God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world and is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine majesty.”
Who are you? You are someone created by God. You are someone called to grow in union with God in this world. You are someone destined for eternal life in the next world. Most importantly, you are someone loved by God.
Just today what steps can you take to be the very best version of the person God calls you to be?
(May 6, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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“How shall I make a return to the Lord?”
In the first part of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales raises the same question on the context of the “First Meditation: On Our Creation.” After considering all of God’s benefits to us, Francis asks: “What can I ever do to bless your holy name in a worthy manner and to render thanks to your immense mercy?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 54)
Needless to say, Francis de Sales offers some suggestions as to how we might “make a return to the Lord”. These include:
- “Give thanks to the Lord. ‘Bless your God, O my soul, and let all my being praise his holy name,’ for his goodness has drawn me out of nothing and his mercy has created me.”
- “Offer. O my God, with all my heart I offer you the being you have given me. I dedicate and consecrate it to you.”
- “Pray. O God, strengthen me in these affections and resolutions.”
(May 7, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Easter)
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“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.”
We hear echoes of this first Letter of Peter in one of St. Jane de Chantal's exhortations to the members of her community, the Sisters of the Visitation. She remarked:
“Let us look to our Savior in the excess of his sufferings and the excess of his love. Let us keep our hearts always on these things, so that our divine Savior may communicate and give us the strength to suffer the things that his adorable hand may send us.” (Conferences, page 255)
How can our suffering ever compare with the suffering that Jesus experienced? If we are speaking about the suffering of the last day of his human life, there really is no comparison. However, if we consider the suffering that accompanies the efforts to suffer - that is, to bear with - others, we actually have a great deal more in common with Jesus' suffering than we might otherwise think.
Look at the word “suffering” itself. Suffering is not only about “putting up” with something difficult, harmful or painful. Suffering comes from the Latin sufferre, meaning, “to carry, to bear, to give birth…or life.”
Made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the love of Christ and inspired by the Spirit, we all have a responsibility to carry - to live our lives for others. We are called to carry the responsibility to love one another, to help one another, to challenge one another, to heal one another, to forgive one another and to encourage one another. Children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, we carry the burdens and inconveniences that come with living lives of generous service.
In short, we are called to live as Jesus lived……and to carry, to bear with whatever may come with that life choice. “It was for this that you were called, since Christ suffered for you and left you an example, to have you follow in his footsteps.”
St. Jane clearly recognized the suffering, the inconvenience, the stretching that living for others will bring:
“We must have a large heart toward our neighbor, which means in affection, love and help, being ever ready to serve, to assist, to comfort, bear with and support in every way in our power, but cheerfully and cordially. A large heart is a heart ready for all sorts of inconveniences, an open heart that loves before all things the will of God.” (Conferences, page 174)
This is God's will for us - that we should not endure a suffering that leads to death, but a suffering that leads, as St. Jane observed, “to a new life, in God's grace and in God's love, in this world, and then forever in glory…,” the suffering that comes from bearing with - carrying - one another in love. (Conferences, page 117 - 118) Or, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, (4:2) let us live a life worthy of our calling, being completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another lovingly.
Today and every day!
(May 8, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold…”
Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10). That’s why Jesus cares so much for us. That’s why Jesus is the good shepherd who loves us so much that he is willing to lay down his life for us.
And lay down his life is exactly what the Good Shepherd did!
But the people saved by the Good Shepherd are not some exclusive club. There is no “in” group or “out” group when it comes to God’s love. Whether of his “fold” or not, Jesus lays down his life for everyone. Note that he says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Truth be told, all of us are members of Jesus’ flock. Truth be told, Jesus is for all of us – without exception – our one, Good Shepherd.
Just today, how might we listen to the voice of this Shepherd in ourselves and in one another?
(May 9, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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"He rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart...”
Firmness - or strength - of heart is an invaluable asset in the pursuit of devotion, especially as we deal with the ups and downs of daily life. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:
“We must try to keep our heart steadily, unshakably equal during the great variety and inequality of daily events. Even though everything turns and changes around us, our hearts must remain unchanging and ever looking, striving and aspiring toward God.” (IDL, Book IV, Chapter 13, p. 256)
A little further along in this chapter, Francis de Sales makes a distinction between tenderness of heart and firmness of heart. He continues:
“Some men think about God’s goodness and our Savior’s passion, feel great tenderness of heart, and are thus aroused to utter sighs, tears and prayers, and acts of thanksgiving so ardently that we say that their hearts have been filled with intense devotion. But when a test comes, we see how different things can get. Just as in the hot summer passing showers send down drops that fall on the earth but do not sink into it and serve only to produce mushrooms, so also these tender tears may fall on a vicious heart but do not penetrate and are therefore completely useless to it.” (IDL, Book IV, Chapter 13, pp. 257-258)
With respect to tenderness of heart and firmness of heart, both have their place in the pursuit of holiness. Tenderness of heart can help us to enjoy the good times; firmness of heart can help us get through the tough times.
Today, what kind of heart might you need to have today?
(May 10, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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“His commandment is eternal life…”
In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:
“Many men keep the commandments in the same way that sick men take medicine – more from fear of dying in damnation than for the joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some people dislike taking medicine – now matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. On the contrary, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter sand more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him greater honor. It pours forth and sings hymns of joy when God teaches it his commandments. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey. In like manner the devout lover finds such sweetness in the commandments that nothing in this mortal life comforts and refreshes him so much as the precious burden’s of God’s precepts.” (TLG, Book XIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)
Perhaps in this observation from Francis de Sales we can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: 29 – 30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
Seeing the commandments of God as strong medicine that cures our sickness can surely weigh us down, but seeing the commandments of God as that which keep us healthy can surely lift us up.
How will you see – and experience – God’s commandments today - as burden or bounty?
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